1/01/2006

Bush Defends Legality of Domestic Spy Program - New York Times

Mr. Bush's strong defense of the N.S.A. program, which he authorized in 2002 to allow some domestic eavesdropping without court warrants, came as Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the administration to make available current and former high-level officials to explain the evolution of the secret program.

Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who leads the judiciary committee, has already pledged to make hearings into the N.S.A. program one of his highest priorities.

In a letter to Senator Specter today, Senator Schumer, a New York Democrat, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, said the committee should explore "significant concern about the legality of the program even at the very highest levels of the Department of Justice."

The New York Times reported today that when James B. Comey was deputy attorney general, he refused to sign on to the recertification of the program in March 2004.

That prompted two of Mr. Bush's most senior aides - Andrew Card, his chief of staff, and Alberto R. Gonzales, then White House counsel and now attorney general - to make an emergency hospital visit to the Attorney General John Ashcroft to try to persuade him to give his authorization, as required by White House procedures for the program.

Officials with knowledge of the episode said that Mr. Ashcroft also appeared reluctant to sign on to the continued use of the program, and that Justice Department concerns appear to have led in part to the temporary suspension of the program for several months. Following a secret audit, new protocols were put in place at the N.S.A. to better determine how the agency established the targets of its eavesdropping operations, officials have said.

Asked today about internal opposition, President Bush said: "This program has been reviewed, constantly reviewed, by people throughout my administration. And it still is reviewed.

"Not only has it been reviewed by Justice Department officials, it's been reviewed by members of the United States Congress," he said. "It's a vital, necessary program."

But Senator Schumer, in an appearance on "Fox News Sunday," said the White House should have to explain the apparent internal dissent over the program.

Bush Defends Legality of Domestic Spy Program - New York Times

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